Pan and Syrinx is a real discovery – not
only did I not know the work – hardly surprising when this is
the first recording and the Oxford Companion to Music
makes no mention of its composer, though the Shorter Grove
does – I had never even heard of John Ernest (né Johann Ernst)
This is yet another feather in the cap of Jed
Wentz, who is rapidly building a reputation through his recordings
for Brilliant Classics and Challenge Classics. Kevin Sutton
thought his recent recording of Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias
for flute “at Brilliant Classics’ super budget price ...
a steal; ... one of the most ear-catching and imaginative performances
that I have come across this year [which] will merit much repeated
listening.” (Brilliant Classics 93440 – see review).
The contents of this CD were, in fact, originally
issued in a 2-CD set with Purcell’s Dido and Æneas, a
version of the latter which Christopher Howell thought fresh
and attractive, if hardly the greatest ever (Brilliant Classics
92464 – see review).
CH did, however, rate the coupling more highly, especially the
Masque of Cupid, so it was wise of Brilliant Classics
to offer those pieces separately, especially when Wentz’s Dido
has also been released separately on SACD (92538 – see review).
The original 2-CD set on 92464 remains available at around £7
for those who want the coupling.
To have a composer with the name of a dance seems
almost too good to be true. That someone of his undoubted talent
should have fallen out of musical memory is even more incredible
until one remembers what a wealth of foreign talent found success
in London in the early eighteenth-century – 1718, for example,
the year of the first version of Pan and Syrinx, saw
the first performance of Handel’s Acis and Galatea at
Cannons. When native composers such as Avison and Garth, especially
the latter, have needed the advocacy of recent recordings on
the Divine Art label in order to be rightfully re-established,
I wonder how much more musical talent from the period remains
to be discovered?
I can’t pretend that Galliard’s music represents
the work of genius, especially by comparison with the Purcell
masque which follows, but it is very competent and attractive
and it certainly deserves to have been rediscovered. I have
a sneaking feeling that Handel remembered the final chorus when
he wrote ‘Haste thee nymph’ for L’Allegro. Yet, though
highly successful in 1718, the revised and enlarged version
of 1726, the one employed for this recording, ran for a mere
The bare bones of the plot in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
are fairly slender – the usual ‘god loves nymph, nymph rejects
him and is transformed’. Though the dramatic metamorphosis
of Daphne into a laurel tree was more favoured by artists and
inspired one of the earliest operas, Peri’s la Dafne,
that of Syrinx is particularly appropriate for opera, since
Pan fashioned a handful of the reeds into which she had been
transformed into the first musical instrument, the pan pipes:
Now while the
lustful God, with speedy pace,
Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace,
He fill’d his arms with reeds, new rising on the place.
And while he sighs, his ill success to find,
The tender canes were shaken by the wind;
And breath’d a mournful air, unheard before;
That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas’d him more.
Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said,
Who canst not be the partner of my bed,
At least shall be the confort of my mind:
And often, often to my lips be joyn’d.
He form’d the reeds, proportion’d as they are,
Unequal in their length, and wax’d with care,
They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair. [Metamorphoses
Here the Dryden translation somewhat paraphrases
the original in which Pan sees his music-making as a perpetual
dialogue with Syrinx : ‘hoc mihi colloquium tecum’ dixisse
Surprisingly, Galliard’s opera doesn’t make much
of this musical theme, though Pan’s soliloquy (tr.31) provides
dolefully beautiful music to evoke the ‘plaintive Sounds’ of
the ‘wondrous Reeds’ which shall ‘to future times/Transmit her
Name & Praise.’ The operatic version does, however, flesh
out the story in other ways, introducing a fairly considerable
part for Diana, Syrinx’s protectress and several dances for
her nymphs and swains.
Wentz’s direction is stylish and secure and the
soloists are all in good voice. Inevitably, Johanette Zomer’s
Syrinx outshines the others, since she has the best music and
she is capable of sounding both powerful and gentle, scornful
and delicate, as appropriate. ‘How sweet the warbling Linnet
sings’ (tr.25) is particularly beautifully sung, but Marc Pantus’s
Pan is not far behind. Pan is, of course, usually presented
as an ugly god – the word panic deriving from the natural
reaction to seeing him – but Galliard gives him some attractive
music to sing and Pantus delivers it well. After Syrinx’s aria
‘Go leave me ‘tis in vain’ (track 8) Pan’s reflective ‘How insolently
Coy!’ (tr.9) and his aria ‘Gentle Cupid aid my pleasure’ (tr.
10) have much the same effect as Polyphemus’s ‘Ruddier than
the cherry’ in Acis and Galatea in establishing a degree
of sympathy for the character. Pantus also makes a characterful
Bacchus in the Purcell coupling.
Nicola Wemyss sings Diana well and the smaller
roles are also well taken. The Brilliant Classics website refers
to period pronunciation, and the booklet lists a ‘Restauration
[sic] English coach’ but, mercifully, this futile exercise is
not carried too far – just as well, when we have no secure knowledge
of how English was pronounced in earlier centuries: the attempt
too often comes out as some kind of Mummerset. Here, it’s limited
to such small matters as pronouncing the second syllable of
linnet with the neutral vowel schwa [Ə]. Otherwise,
though not all the singers are Anglophones, their diction presents
Everything is to scale: the choir in the lively
finale (tr.38) consists of twelve singers (some of whom double
as soloists in one work or the other) and the orchestra is proportionately
small, never overwhelming the singers. The recorder accompaniment
of ‘How Sweet the Linnet’ (tr.25) is especially delectable.
The recording is good. Brilliant Classics may
have an SACD version up their sleeves, as in the case of their
Dido and Æneas, but no-one is likely to be disappointed
with the CD recording.
There is, of course, no competition in Pan
and Syrinx. For the Purcell masque, however, there is very
strong competition from a distinguished set of soloists and
Collegium Musicum 90 under Richard Hickox, coupled on two CDs
with the complete Dioclesian on Chandos CHAN0569/70,
as above, or with just the masque from Dioclesian on
CHAN0558 – effectively, the latter option consists of the second,
better-filled disc of the 2-CD set. Both options are available
on CD or as lossless or mp3 downloads from Chandos’s theclassicalshop.net.
Heard on its own and even in comparison with
Hickox, Wentz’s performance of the Purcell is more than adequate,
with singing, direction and recording on a par with those of
Pan and Syrinx. In fact, honours are about even between
Wentz and Hickox in the Timon masque. If Wentz’s adult
soloists sing more securely than Hitchcock’s trebles, the latter
sound more ‘appropriate’. I particularly liked the more prominent
‘Symphony of pipes imitating the chirping of birds’ in Wentz’s
version of the opening number ‘Hark how the Songsters of the
Grove’ (tr.40 = tr.20 of the Chandos recording.) Hickox’s instrumental
group is slightly larger, but never out of proportion. Tempi
are broadly similar, both performances are very entertaining
and both are very truthfully recorded. If I opt for the Hickox,
the preference is surprisingly marginal.
In a sense, too, comparisons are more than odious,
since there is no other recording of either Pan and Syrinx
or the complete Dioclesian – if you want both, duplication
of the masque from Timon is almost inevitable. There
is a budget-price 2-CD Deller Consort version of the Dioclesian
masque, coupled with Dido and Æneas (Vanguard ATMCD1521)
and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra offer a suite from Dioclesian
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi mid-price 82876 60157 2 or budget-price
05472 77858 2, with different
couplings) but there is no other complete version of the whole
work or the masque, nor is any future version likely to outshine
the Hickox. I am trying to point to some of the greatest achievements
of Richard Hickox and Vernon Handley in my monthly Download
Roundups and rapidly realising that Hickox is, if that were
possible, an even greater loss than Handley, able to turn his
hand to Purcell as readily as to advocate the music of neglected
twentieth-century composers such as Kenneth Leighton.
If you really must opt for one or the other,
I must admit that Purcell’s Dioclesian music, whether
the complete work or the masque, rather outshines the Galliard
and I would have to jettison Pan and Syrinx, most reluctantly,
in favour of the all-Purcell recording for my desert island.
But can you really turn down 77 minutes of delectable music
for a mere £5?
The Brilliant Classics booklet is well presented
and informative; it would hardly disgrace a full-price issue
except for some occasional mis-lineation of the text and the
absence of track- and work-timings. French- and German-speaking
listeners would, of course, be better served by Chandos’s tri-lingual
notes and texts. I need hardly add that the Chandos booklet
is even more professional and informative. Both covers are
attractively illustrated, albeit with judicially-placed text
obliterating some of the nudity in Henrik van Balen’s Banquet
of the Gods on the Chandos cover; most of the very section
which Chandos censors is reproduced as the cover of Hyperion’s
recent issue of Handel’s Parnasso in Festa (CDA67701/2).
May we now have some more of Galliard’s music?
The Shorter Grove mentions his all-sung English operas
Calypso and Telemachus (1712) and Circe (1719)
as unsuccessful, but they were up against powerful competition,
not only from Handel. His eight pantomimes were much more successful
– Grove singles out The Rape of Proserpine (1727), which
might be a good place to continue his revival on record. Perhaps
Brilliant Classics already have such plans in hand for Musica
ad Rhenum and Jed Wentz; I note that they have recently released
an SACD of these performers in Handel’s Apollo e Dafne
(93073). Otherwise, perhaps Chandos or Hyperion would oblige.